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Perisic set to become key piece of Mourinho's masterplan

By Miguel Delaney

Jose Mourinho this week joked that he "wouldn't like to be in Ed Woodward's position negotiating", and part of that is because the Manchester United manager knows exactly what he wants his team to look like in every on-pitch position - but also how difficult it will be for the executive vice-chairman to get every deal over the line in this market.

The transfer window is in a highly erratic state right now, but Mourinho himself is at a very relaxed state, that point at the end of the first season when he has a clear vision for his team, where he believes he knows exactly what is lacking.

While it still remains open to question whether he will get all the players he wants, it now looks highly likely that Inter Milan's Ivan Perisic will arrive for a fee of around £48m - and continue to fill in Mourinho's picture.

The United boss identified the 28-year-old Croatian international as a potential signing months ago, both for his defensive work and his attacking contribution, but there is one aspect of his game that helped ensure the winger became one of those signings Mourinho has been especially insistent on completing over the past few months: his crossing.

One count from last season had it that Perisic played 6.6 crosses per game. For comparison, the figures from United's current wide options were: Jesse Lingard 1, Anthony Martial 2.24, Henrikh Mkhitaryan 2.

Given that new main striker Romelu Lukaku has scored the third most headed goals in the Premier League since 2012-13 with 18 (after Christian Benteke's 23 and Olivier Giroud's 25), and that almost a quarter of his goals last season were in the air, it seems obvious that United needed a player to supply that ability.

One obvious criticism that has already been made in some football circles, however, is that it also sounds suspiciously like when Liverpool signed Stewart Downing because his stats suggested he would be able to supply the crosses for Andy Carroll's even more obvious heading ability.

That didn't work out in the slightest, and reflected something of a facile thought process to how their attack would work - but then it's also something of a facile comparison.

Perisic's crossing for Lukaku is just one of the reasons he's been signed, not the main reason.

The bottom line is that, for Mourinho's specific vision, United needed to restore a bit more natural wing play to their game. It was something they really did lack, which was noticeable at many points last season.

The Croatian will not just be crossing, after all, but helping to stretch games with his running and thereby create even more space for Lukaku.

It will simply change the dynamic of their whole front line, an area that had been too often too predictable last season.

Mourinho will also be able to get opposition managers trying to second-guess selections more due to his options, although it currently seems likely that his front four ahead of Paul Pogba pinging passes will be Marcus Rashford, Perisic and Mkhitaryan behind Lukaku.

The Croatian almost feels the most classically Mourinho player out of all of those, and will make this a more classically Mourinho team.

He may not be a signing that will blow people away - but he is a very necessary signing.

Belfast Telegraph

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